This weekend I'm putting the finishing touches on a program I'm giving at Senior Living at Forest Ridge in New Castle Tuesday morning, Dec. 10. Won't you join me?
I'll be going down memory lane, as I share some of my favorite characters and stories I've written in three decades at the New Castle Courier-Times. The program is at 10 a.m. which includes a free brunch. All you need to do is let LauraLisa Stamper know by noon Monday by calling 765-521-4740.
I'll bring along some free copies of the current issue of our her magazine for women and other specialty publications.
Hope to see you there!
So, I needed, no wanted, some pumpkins to scatter in our landscaping. The sign placed along the highway pointed to a rural pumpkin patch. When I got there Friday, I spotted a large assortment of orange pumpkins of various sizes, along with a good many miniatures in white and orange. But where were the prices? Then I saw this money box, above, and this sign, below.
WHO does that? Who entrusts his large crop of pumpkins to consumer goodwill? The Hoosier farmer who lives at this residence, that's who.
So I looked around, trying to decide which pumpkins I would cart home, how many I needed, and where I'd place them. The farmer spotted me and walked down his driveway. He told me to take what I want and leave what I thought was fair. I looked around some more. Maybe they weren't perfect, but neither am I. And how perfect do they need to be to adorn our landscaping and porch just fine?
Then ... he walked back to the house and left me to my own assessment on what the bounty is worth. I hope he liked what I left. I think I was actually more generous than had I bought them at a pricey agri-tourism attraction, well known for its annual harvests.
I was touched.
And inspired by the generosity he offered to not only do up the exterior of the house, but hang the fall wreaths, get out the beautiful fall pillow friend Gay gifted me with in the summer, and fill a bowl with cinnamon-infused potpourri.
Then Sunday morning, when I got ready for church, I decided to wear my new sweater. It's a goldenrod hue, a color I never wear, but I like it. It was on the final clearance rack at a favorite local consignment shop, Sisterhood Exchange, in Pendleton. I was drawn to the subtle ruffle along the row of buttons. But what sealed the deal was the $1 pricetag. I'll be sporting this a lot this fall.
Happy fall, y'all!
Fall arrives in snippets around here. Even though I tend to hang onto summer as long as I can, once September arrives, there’s a yearning to dig out the fall decorations.
When I decorate for fall though, I like to mostly do so in a way that will remain relevant on through Thanksgiving.
I decided yesterday was the day to swap out the three urns in front of our garage doors. For too long, I tried keeping small green living shrubs planted in them. But in long or short order, the shrubs would die, I’d yank them and start over. Yes, the definition of insanity!
There is no shade on these urns and the evening sun drills the space. So real plants aren't really an option. But the space calls for some softening and decoration. What to do?
I fake it.
This spring I filled the urns with the most real-looking fake lavender I could find. The stems held up so well that I’m stowing them away for a future spring.
I decided to go a similar route for the fall version. I started with stems of autumn leaves I have had for years, along with some faux pumpkins.
A couple months ago, friend Patty Redmond had a trunk full of things destined for Goodwill but asked her friends if they wanted anything in there. I spotted the long twigs and was glad to get them, knowing they would be just right for this arrangement. From those three “elements,” I added stems (on sale) of fake mums and some sticks with small pumpkins on the ends.
I still have the porch to change out but that won’t come until probably next week. I’m giving away the summer summer ferns and they will be picked up this weekend.
In the community where I work (30 years this month!) there’s a successful program called New Castle Downtown. It’s a localized version of a program you might know as Main Street.
Director Carrie Barrett told me that when she first heard the organization’s recommendation to place pots of flowers downtown and keep them maintained, she thought, “Flowers?”
But the pots are a big success. She said they show that someone is home, and that someone cares.
In New Castle, the plants are real, and at Christmas, the greenery is real.
My urns have fake foliage. But I’m OK with that. It’s not your great-grandmother’s plastic flowers anymore. And the material will be around for years to come.
Here in the Hoosierland, recent temperatures have been a delightful preview of fall. Ideal weather. Today they are headed back up where they will remain for a few days.
But cooler days will follow those. And my urns are ready.
How and when do you decorate for fall?
Forty years ago today, Brian and I were officially engaged!
In the winter of the Blizzard of ’78, this day was cold with plenty of snow on the ground. For several weeks that season, I slept nights on the living room sofa of my brother and SIL Tim and Jeannie in Liberty.
Brian and I had been talking about marriage for a while, and were privately engaged. The ring was selected after Christmas. It needed sized, and what better time to make things official than with a Valentine's Day debut!
After work that day, I arrived at the home on East Seminary Street in Liberty where Brian rented a spacious apartment in the upstairs of landlady Mary Snyder. He was visiting downstairs with Mary.
“Your ring’s upstairs,” he said when I arrived. I went up, found the box, and brought it back down for the two of them to admire.
There was no band, no knee proposal, no asking my dad for my hand. But I knew that we loved each other and all these years later, there's no one I would rather come home to.
Forty years ago it was official, and soon came the engagement photo in the newspaper, obligatory back in that era.
Come October, God willing, we’ll be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. But on that February day so long ago, I couldn’t imagine the double-digit anniversary numbers that we have today. It was simply too far into the future to even imagine. I couldn’t anticipate that four decades from that day, on our mind would be Brian’s signing up for Medicare and Social Security this week and I’d be wrapping my mind around the idea of turning 60 this year.
Last night I helped friend Patti decorate Valentine cookies that she planned to put out as a surprise for her coworkers in the teachers’ lounge today. By the time I got to her house, she and her little niece had decorated most of the hearts in bright colors. I added a few to the stack. Life is full of pattern and color and the unexpected—like those cookies that are no doubt by now gone!
On Monday, my Bible Study Fellowship group leader had old-fashioned Valentines for all of us. Not only Valentines, but red suckers attached. I don’t know how long it’s been since someone gave me that combo. The little card took me back to the fun we had in elementary school on this day.
Whether your Valentine’s Day comes with candy, hearts, a diamond engagement ring, or not, may the day remind us all of special loves, past, present and sometimes, those that are one and the same.
Well, I was wrong.
I thought most of my loved ones were starting to think that Christmas cards were remnants of the past; that social media platforms and cell phone texts had taken the place of trips to the store to select cards, then to the post office to choose theme stamps and taking the time to look up addresses and mail off cards.
I thought this last year. So I quietly decided that instead of spending a month of Sundays getting cards ready, I vowed to send cards only to those who sent them to us first. For a while there, things were going as expected. There were a few die-hards, greetings from my kindergarten teacher Miss Kalter in Ohio and Brian's Aunt Janis in Louisiana. Probably the other regulars, though, had similar thoughts to mine. So, I continued to hold out. I put together cards for my Bible study friends and a card for a friend in Ohio whose hobby is card-making.
If mail call continued as expected, I'd finish my few cards and be done.
But as Christmas neared, the mailbox filled up daily. There were so many cards, some with long, detailed letters about accomplishments of everyone in the family, some written on beautiful holiday paper. The cards snowballed like a January snowstorm and with Christmas fast approaching on a Sunday, and prep needing done for the big day, I found myself out of time.
I briefly considered sending cards late, once everything settled down. But to me, a late Christmas card is like carving a pumpkin on Nov. 1 or getting a Christmas tree on Dec. 26. So I did what to some of you will find rude: I let it go.
This year I thought perhaps our friends and loved ones whose cards were not reciprocated last year would scratch us from their address books. But no! The cards are coming again. They come from a range of age groups from those in their early 30s all the way to those in their 80s.
It appears that rumors of the Christmas card's demise have been greatly exaggerated. I went out and bought a fresh box the other day. There's enough in there that will allow me to finish carding everyone who cards us first.
Perhaps next year I'll return to my old ways. In the old days, picking out the cards was a ritual. Then I I tucked them with Christmas stamps and the address book into a tote bag and worked on the addressing whenever I had a little time. Chilly Sunday afternoons and weeknight evenings found me working on cards with updates and greetings tailored to each family. My goal was to have them all mail-ready by Black Friday.
I have reached the conclusion that for the most part, my people are card-carrying people.
There's something sweet about that.
This is a reprint from Donna Cronk's column in the Christmas Eve 2017 New Castle Courier-Times. where she is Neighbors and Her magazine editor.
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Israel, located five miles from Jerusalem. The church was built centuries ago on top of the traditionally recognized site of where baby Jesus was born. Currently, between 25,000 and 35,000 (I've seen both figures) live in Bethlehem. One source said at the time of Christ's birth, 1,000 or fewer residents lived there.
As a little girl going to Christmas pageant practice at the Brownsville United Methodist Church, I saw the evening lights across the Whitewater River and imagined the town as what Bethlehem might be like. After all, this was the smallest "town" I knew. And in my childhood mind, I knew that Jesus was born in a little town.
O Little Town of Bethlehem and Away in a Manger were two of the most popular songs we’d learn for the pageant.
Never could I have imagined in a million years that I would one day visit Bethlehem, let alone see the very site where Jesus was born. Spoiler alert: Today it is not a manger scene.
You were expecting a manger? Well, the site that once held the best-known manger, baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph was honored by placement of a church over it in the 4th century. It’s a complicated story to explain centuries of conflict and destruction, not even to mention the three denominations that share the church: Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Armenian Orthodox.
Here’s one story though. Legend has it that invading Persians destroyed all Christian churches and monasteries in 614. But not this one. Why? A painting depicted the Nativity scene we would recognize today – complete with three wise men. The artist dressed the wise men in Persian clothing. The invaders honored the Persian-appearing wise men by preserving the church.
Following is my Dec. 3 New Castle Courier-Times column. I’m still thinking about ornaments today as I prepare a new Christmas program for tomorrow night's Lilac Literary Club in Hancock County. It’s about how our ornaments tell the stories of our lives.
Thirty-one years ago, I couldn’t wait to place baby Sam’s first ornament on our Christmas tree.
As the years passed, new ornaments were purchased annually first for Sam, then also for Ben when he came along. At first I did the choosing, picking out Disney and bear decorations, but as the boys got old enough to care, they got to choose their own.
It became a much-anticipated Christmas tradition to take them to the Hallmark store and select their ornaments. As the “senior” son, Sam got first dibs, and usually selected the year’s cool Batman or sports hero. Along the way came orbs depicting trends such as video games or the hot sports figure of the year.
There were athletes with staying power such as Peyton Manning, and ones who are forgotten footnotes in old box scores. There were action figures such as Spider-man and Lego creations such as a fireplace with Santa appearing to be made from them.
Several years ago, I stopped putting the collection on the big family Christmas tree. These were during the years that the boys were in their late teens and early 20s. The boys had lost their thrill of selecting new ornaments and moved on in their interests. It seemed the time for childhood ornaments had passed.
It’s funny what a few years out of circulation will do to a collection.
Our younger son, Ben, is 26 now, and this is the first Christmas he’s truly been out on his own without a roommate. On Thanksgiving, he was anxious to get back to his apartment and have Brian and I help him put up his own tree.
His lights worked great on the shimmering white tree that came intact from his small patio storage closet. But the problem was, he had no actual ornaments.
So, I offered up his childhood Hallmark ones. I don’t know which of us was more delighted – Ben over the idea of the nostalgic decorations, or me over seeing his delight.
That weekend he came home and went through the pile of Superheroes and athletes, cars and novelty items, all created with the special charm of Hallmark, in ornament form.
One by one we looked them over and he separated his stash from his brother’s and home he went with them. Later that evening, he sent us a photo and video of his decorated tree.
I had always wondered what would become of the boys’ ornaments and if they would ever want them.
I’m happy to see them enjoyed anew in their new home on their new tree – with their old boy.
Several weeks ago, this invite appeared on my desk at work.
It had nothing to do with a book program, or a feature story for the paper, and it was from someone I barely knew.
I met Irene last summer when she entered a drawing for a book giveaway celebrating women’s right to vote. She told me about how she and her husband are from the area but had moved to Florida many years ago. They moved back.
Then I did an article about Irene, and she also entered our holiday recipe contest.
With the date open, I put the tea party on my calendar. What a lovely afternoon at Irene’s sipping tea with her friends and tasting the delicious treats she kept producing from the kitchen.
We were to bring our own tea cups and Irene had us tell where we got them.
The first snow of the season brought a dusting, making the day even more festive.
Thank you, Irene, for inviting me to your authentic tea party.
I went home and made chili, wrapped gifts and watched It’s A Wonderful Life.
It is indeed.
So today I feel overwhelmed by gratitude. That’s a good place to be. It's been such a fast-paced week, I'm only now getting this posted.
After last Saturday in Indy at the newspaper conference, Sunday it was off to Centerville where I visited with shoppers, colleagues and friends in the new Artisans and Java building at the Kids at Heart Publishing mini-bookstore.
Monday night was a speaking engagement at Fishers United Methodist Church’s United Methodist Women’s Christmas gathering. I am grateful to Linda Shimer who served this year as co-president of the UMW and is also active in the church’s book club. I appreciate her support and encouragement so much.
She also wows me! In addition to her leadership role, she went and picked up and returned home a friend who couldn't get there on her own. In fact, she left so quickly following the program that I was unable to get a photo with her. Not only that but I found out that Linda and her husband MOVED last week!
Even though my connection to the church’s book club had nothing to do with my husband’s 26 years working in Fishers schools, ironically, Linda told me that several were coming who knew him. It was such a delight to see these wonderful former co-workers of Brian’s – and look up to find their smiling faces near the front of the sanctuary as I spoke.
I took their photos and texted them to Brian. He was pretty pumped about their attendance and when I got home, he took a trip down Fishers Memory Lane, reflecting on all the wonderful people he worked with during those years.
Last summer, a surprise invite came from town library director Carrie Watson to give the opening program to children in the summer reading program. I spoke on the topic, “What’s Your Clue?” about looking for our gifts and talents – even as young kids, and then later in the afternoon, I gave a second talk to the adults in a program on our bucket lists.
Carrie told me she would invite me back during the annual town Christmas walk and library open house. She even gave me the date but I didn’t put it on my calendar. I thought I should wait and see if the invite came through and guess what? It did!
I got there at 5 and enjoyed delicious hot soup samples prepared by members of the library board, and hot cocoa, served by Carrie’s adorable daughter, visited with many of the more than 100 people (probably closer to 150) who came through the library to warm up and chat with their neighbors. What a bunch of truly nice people with friendly smiles and were interested enough to stop and chat.
Carrie’s mentor, Iraida Davis, even visited the library! At age 90, it’s been a while since she directed the place but I found it touching when the two librarians posed together. Carrie says Iraida was her idol. I think she still is.
Carrie is a woman of many talents. Not only is she library director in Farmland, she is the Union Modoc library director and teaches Title 1 reading. She is a mom, a quilter, and – I kid you not – a drag racer who shows her skills all over the country.
I tried to think of how to describe Farmland, an artsy farm community with something special. The best I can do is to call out two old-time TV shows. I think Farmland is something of a blend of the two: Northern Exposure meets Mayberry.
Carrie agreed to let me write about her in a future issue of her magazine for women. Yippee!
On the ride home, the moon was huge and bright, showcasing the lovely, peaceful Hoosier farms I passed as I made my way south and west through Randolph County, then continued straight west through Henry County, and home to Madison County on U.S. 36 most of the way.
By 9:30 when I landed home, I was so tired I could hardly get from my favorite chair to draw my steaming-hot bath. But I did, then headed for bed.
It's supposed to snow this weekend; just a Christmas Chamber-of-Commerce type dusting of a couple inches.
I hope so.
Brian has always enjoyed Halloween. While he doesn’t do anything with the Christmas tree other than tell me if it is leaning to one side (a particular pet peeve of his), and yes, tell me it’s pretty once it’s all decked out, he is the one who carves our pumpkins.
At this stage in the game of life, I’d be content to plug in a fake one and carry on, but not him. He always makes a production of selecting an annual pumpkin or two and carving them.
I came across this photo of him with a Parke County pumpkin 40 years ago. This was taken in his parents’ Rockville, Indiana basement the first weekend I met them.
We had been to the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival where he snagged a pumpkin (I probably got one too but don’t remember that). It was my 19th birthday weekend and Brian’s mother surprised me with a gift, a new wallet.
I’m pretty sure she made pumpkin pie. Boy, she could bake pies! In the fall there were always pumpkin pies on her counter top.
I have fond memories of trick-or-treating as a kid, throwing "spook-house" basement parties for the neighbor kids in my family's rustic basement, canvassing the neighboring farms for Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF and then going to the church basement for a party. And who can forget the full-sized chocolate bars out of Philomath?
I'm seeing a trend here ... Halloween and basements.
Then came the years of our boys and their Halloween parties and trick-or-treating. This is my favorite Halloween photo of Sam and Ben. It's actually one of my all-time favorite pictures of them period.
Last year, Brian had a little issue with his pumpkin. He carved it and set it on the porch. I wasn't paying much attention and didn't connect the dots when he asked if we had any Duct Tape. I told him we did and asked why.
"Oh, I probably won't need it," he hedged. I still didn't think anything of it.
Until the next day.
His carved pumpkin had Duct Tape wrapped around its head.
"I cut his nose off," Brian confessed.
I roared with laughter.
"It won't even show when the lights are out," he insisted.
To my surprise, he was right. The pumpkin looked just fine -- in the dark.
Here's this year's duo, carved yesterday while I was at work. Pretty cute.
What are your special Oct. 31 memories?